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Jurors told of DNA link on murder trial's 1 st day

By Michelle Bradford

This article was published September 24, 2003 at 9:03 p.m.

— DNA evidence links Clint Eugene Phillips to a 1994 slaying in Madison County, but investigators don't have a motive, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

"It's real hard to prove what's going on in someone's mind, so that part of the equation is taken out of this trial," Prosecuting Attorney Terry Jones told jurors.

A defense attorney said the investigation of the September 1994 slaying of Billie Jean Phillips, 35, is fraught with shoddy police work and based on desperate "guessing."

"They don't want another explanation," attorney Joel Huggins said in Madison County Circuit Court. "Clint Phillips is the best they have. They want to make Madison County happy. They want to solve this case."

Trial started Tuesday for Clint Phillips, 27, of Huntsville who's charged with capital murder. Judge William Storey has set aside four days for the trial.

Jones isn't seeking the death penalty against Clint Phillips, a broad-chested man with a white smile who wore a baby-blue Oxford buttoned tight at his neck Tuesday.

Clint Phillips was two days shy of his 18th birthday when Billie Jean Phillips was bludgeoned then strangled to death in the bedroom of her Alabam home late Sept. 2, 1994, or early the next morning.

The two aren't related.

Huggins told jurors Tuesday that his client is a scapegoat for authorities under pressure by Billie Jean Phillips' fed-up family and a community pushing for an arrest.

The Arkansas State Police let Billie Jean Phillips' family inside her home before sheriff's investigators were finished collecting evidence, Huggins said.

A broken bat, probably used to beat Billie Jean Phillips, was mistakenly destroyed at the state Crime Laboratory, Huggins established through questioning Tuesday.

Investigators initially thought the bat, which belonged to the dead woman's son, had been wiped clean. Later, they found traces of mucus and hair, Sgt. Doug Fogley of the state police testified Tuesday.

Fogley said that a state police agent mistakenly gave the Crime Laboratory permission to destroy the bat when he gave the OK to destroy an unneeded blood sample in the case.

"It was a real embarrassment for us," Fogley testified.

MacKenzie Phillips was 7 years old when he stopped by the home the morning of Sept. 3, 1994, to find his mother's bloodied body riddled with some 60 injuries, Jones said.

Confused, the boy told his father, Chic Phillips, who was waiting outside in his car, that "mommy fell painting," investigators have said.

During nearly a decade-long investigation, authorities compared DNA from 18 people before they found a match in Clint Phillips last summer, Jones said. Clint Phillips had been ordered to submit a blood sample as part of a sexual assault conviction. His DNA was derived and matched to tissue found under Billie Jean Phillips' fingernails.

But Clint Phillips has an explanation, Huggins said Tuesday. Clint Phillips met Billie Jean Phillips on a roadside the night of her slaying, and they had oral sex.

Jurors heard Clint Phillips' explanation Tuesday when they watched a videotaped interview he gave to a television reporter after his arrest in November.

Fogley testified Tuesday that Billie Jean Phillips was likely slain between 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 2, 1994, and 6:30 a.m. the next morning.

The time of her death is crucial in the case.

By 11 p.m. on Sept. 2, 1994, Clint Phillips was on his way with three friends to the Washington County Fair in Fayetteville, where they stayed until 2:30 a.m., Huggins told jurors.

Huggins said he can "almost" account for Clint Phillips' whereabouts after the fair until Sept. 4, 1994.

A prosecution witness will testify to seeing scratches on Clint Phillips on Sept. 3, 1994, Huggins said.

Clint Phillips got the scratches during the roadside sex, Huggins told jurors.

Huggins said during opening statements that he'll tap into decade-old theories that someone other than Clint Phillips committed the murder.

Huggins pointed to early suspicion cast on Howard "Rusty" Cain Jr., Billie Jean Phillips' married lover and Madison County's then-deputy prosecuting attorney.

In the weeks before her death, her family said, Billie Jean Phillips openly pressed Cain to leave his wife, Sharon, Huntsville's music teacher. Jones later fired Rusty Cain for meddling in the murder investigation, Jones has said.

Rusty Cain - whose DNA was compared in the case - wasn't arrested or charged in the slaying.

Huggins pointed out that Sharon Cain and son Trey Cain also were early suspects in the case, although neither was arrested or charged.

Fogley testified that Billie Jean Phillips "seduced" Trey Cain when he was 12.

Fogley told jurors that Rusty Cain initially tromped around the crime scene. He also said that "phony" evidence of a break-in at the scene - cut window screens and fresh pry marks on doors - are signs of an unplanned attack.

"This homicide was the result of an explosive episode of rage," Fogley said.

A birthday card from Rusty Cain on Billie Jean Phillips' kitchen counter may have been part of the staged scene, Fogley said.

Huggins pointed out that an alarm clock on the floor of Billie Jean Phillips' home read 3:35 a.m. and may have been pulled from the wall during her death struggle.

Clint Phillips initially denied knowing Billie Jean Phillips when questioned by police last year, Jones said during opening statements.

The case has divided Madison County as mirrored in the courtroom Tuesday. Billie Jean Phillips' family filled several rows on one side of the room, while Clint Phillips' supporters sat on the other.

Larry Phillips said Tuesday that evidence against his son is weak.

"We feel like it's looking good for him," Larry Phillips said.

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